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Supreme Court declines appeal in Ford Explorer rollover case


WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review Ford Motor Co.'s five-year attempt to have an $82.6 million product liability decision reversed.

The case, Ford Motor Co. vs. Benetta Buell-Wilson et al., twice went before the nation's highest court. On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected the automaker's latest appeal, which had argued that California's product liability laws were too vague and that the court needed to clarify the due process that manufacturers face in such cases.

The Supreme Court, which rejected Ford's appeal without comment, ended five years of appeals.

Ms. Buell-Wilson and her husband sued Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford as a result of a 2002 crash that left her a paraplegic. Ms. Buell-Wilson swerved to avoid a piece of metal that dropped off a vehicle in front of her, and the 1997 Explorer she was driving rolled over, according to court documents.

The couple filed a product liability suit against Ford, and a jury awarded the couple $109.6 million in damages plus $246 million in punitive damages. The trial court and the appellate court later reduced the award to $82.6 million, which included the $55 million in punitive damages, $18 million in noneconomic damages, $5 million for loss of consortium and $4.6 million in economic damages.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower courts in light of its punitive damages ruling in Phillip Morris USA vs. Mayola Williams.

The California appellate court reaffirmed its prior decision and found that any issues arising from the Phillip Morris ruling had been waived by Ford.

Jerome B. Falk Jr. of San Francisco's Howard Rice Nemerovski Canaday Falk & Rabkin P.C., who represented Ms. Buell-Wilson, lauded the ruling.

“Although it is a large award, it is fully justified by Ford's marketing of a vehicle with known defects creating a high risk of death or serious injury to its occupants even though the vehicle could have been made safe at a modest cost,” Mr. Falk said in a statement.

Ford could not be immediately reached for comment.